January 2000

Some Microprocessor History

The 16-bit 8086 microprocessor was introduced by Intel in 1979. A weaker cousin, the 8088, was used in the first IBM PC in 1981. Since then, Intel has produced the 80186, 80286, 80386, 80486, and Pentium I, II, and III. All of these chips, which are referred to as "x86" processors, can run the same 16-bit software, including Microsoft MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.

Starting with the 80386, these Intel chips are 32-bit processors, although they can still run the old 16-bit software. Only the 32-bit chips can run Windows 95 and 98.

Of course, the speed of the processors has increased greatly over the years. The 8088 chip in the original IBM PC ran at 4.77 megahertz (MHz). The Pentium III is now available in PC-compatibles running at 800 MHz.

During this period, there have been other companies which manufactured compatible x86 processors, but none have been successful for long. Some companies, such as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Cyrix, have introduced faster chips, but Intel has always managed to pull ahead in performance after a brief period. The Pentium processors have been especially good at floating point operations, which are important for graphics intensive software.

AMD Athlon Overtakes Intel Pentium III

Now Intel is facing a serious challenge from AMD. The AMD Athlon processor design appears to be superior in many respects to Intel's Pentium III. Its floating point performance is better than the Pentium III. It also uses standard memory, while the latest Pentium III chips need special, expensive Rambus memory.

Several PC manufacturers, including Compaq, Gateway, and IBM, are producing computers based on the AMD Athlon. Gateway is particularly interesting. First it used AMD chips in some of its low-end computers. Next Intel seems to have offered a discount on Pentium systems, causing Gateway to reverse course. Finally, this month, Gateway announced that it would use the AMD Athlon, because Intel had been unable to supply enough motherboards and Pentium chips during the fourth quarter of 1999. Gateway is now offering computers with 600, 700, and 800 MHz Athlon processors in its new Gateway Select line.

Do We Need Faster Processors?

It is tempting to think that a fast processor is a luxury which won't result in better performance. While it is true that processing speed alone is not very important for most business applications, when you buy a computer with a faster processor you often get other system components which are enhanced as well. A faster motherboard, video card, and hard disk may be included, resulting in a computer that really does run faster for typical users.

You cannot tell how fast a computer is by reading the specifications. Benchmark tests run by computer magazines are more likely to reveal actual performance. Look at the tests closest to your intended use of the computer. A system that is very good for games (mainly a test of the processor and video card) may be much less desirable for database applications (largely a test of disk speed).

New Low-Power Processor

In portable applications, low power consumption is often more important than speed. Intel recently announced its new SpeedStep technology for the "mobile Pentium III." Notebook computers that use this latest chip will run at a lower voltage and lower clock speed when using battery power than when they are plugged into an outlet.

A more dramatic development is the announcement of the Crusoe 5400 processor from start-up Transmeta. To be available at mid-year, it is an x86 chip that claims to be comparable in speed to the Pentium III, yet it uses only one watt of power compared to six watts for a mobile Pentium III on battery power.

Transmeta's "code-morphing" technology uses software to translate x86 instructions into simpler commands that the chip actually executes. Because it executes simple instructions instead of complex x86 instructions, the Crusoe 5400 is smaller and cheaper than a Pentium III.

For handheld devices, Transmeta has a much less expensive and even lower-power chip, the Crusoe 3120, which is currently being manufactured for Transmeta by IBM. This chip is designed to run Linux. Linux creator Linus Torvalds is a Transmeta employee.

Millennium Bug Strikes RTG Bills

Just when it seemed that RTG Bills, and most of the rest of the planet, had made it into the new millennium unscathed, a bug appeared in the Quicken import feature.

RTG Bills can import transactions from Quicken. Quicken deposits become payments and Quicken checks become expenses, if you specify a matter number in Quicken's memo field.

Here is the problem: RTG Bills does not understand the unusual date format that Quicken uses for years after 1999 in the QIF file, which is the file that RTG Bills imports. A date such as January 7, 2000 appears as

D1/ 7' 0

where the presence of an apostrophe instead of a slash indicates a year after 1999. (The letter D identifies this line as a date.) As a result, if you try to read a QIF file with dates after 1999 (File, Import, From Quicken), you will get an error message from RTG Bills.

We would like to think that this problem is Quicken's fault, but this bizarre date format for the 21st century has been a Quicken "feature" for years. Unfortunately, we were unaware of this "feature" until the problem was reported by an RTG Bills user in mid-January.

Correctly Importing Quicken Transactions

If you need the Quicken import feature, we have created a separate import program that can correctly import the Quicken QIF file. Use this program as a workaround until the next version of RTG Bills is released.

The corrected import program only works with RTG Bills Version 1.22. If you have an older version of RTG Bills, you must upgrade to Version 1.22 before you can use the import program.

Copies of RTG Bills shipped by mail on or after January 14, 2000 include the corrected import program and instructions for its use. If you purchased RTG Bills over the Internet, or if your copy was shipped by mail prior to January 14, 2000, you can download the program from this page on our Web site:


[The import program is no longer available. We suggest you upgrade.]

RTG Bills and RTG Timer are trademarks of RTG Data Systems. Other company and product names may be trademarks of the companies with which they are associated.

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